If there’s a Rockie who has a great 2020, I hope it’s Antonio Senzatela.
You probably remember his 2019, which was not great. Senzatela struggled, missing the beginning of the season with an infected heel blister before slogging through 18 starts, earning a 6.29 ERA and a career worst 77 ERA+ with 19 home runs and 57 walks. He also failed to strike out batters. (Nick Groke details here just how serious those struggles were.) After a stint in Albuquerque, Senzatela seemed back on track, going 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA in his last four starts. His curveball, generally only seen by Germán Márquez when the two were playing catch, made an appearance at Márquez’s urging.
This followed 2017 in which he made his MLB debut and went 10-5 with a 4.68 ERA, earning the April National League Rookie of the Month, and 2018 when he went 6-6 with a 4.38 ERA, starting Game 1 of the NLDS against the Brewers. He had the stuff, but it wasn’t working anymore.
Senzatela’s biggest weakness was the lack of a diverse pitch arsenal. While he had a solid fastball (94 mph) and slider (84 mph), he needed another breaking pitch. He had two offseason assignments: expand his pitching repertoire and lose some weight.
Based on comments by other members of the Rockies pitching staff and Senzatela himself, he appears ready to succeed. And the Rockies’ increased use of technology has played a role.
Using technology to improve pitching
Pitching coach Steve Foster is enthusiastic about Senzatela as the Rockies head into their abbreviated 2020 season. In a recent media availability, Foster said that Senzatela had made more progress than other members of the starting rotation.
“It was the things done behind the scenes last year at the end of the season that he stuck with through the offseason and came into spring training with,” Foster said. “His velocity’s up. His breaking pitches are sharper. The Rapsodo tells me his numbers have increased in spin rate and vertical. He’s just gotten better. He’s already done well.”
Bud Black agrees.
“He’s much better,” Black said. “I think we started to see that in September of last year. I think it’s carried over into this spring, and it’s carried over into Summer Camp. He’s been throwing the ball really well. I’m excited for Antonio.”
Black also agreed with Foster on the importance of Rapsodo.
“Some of the things that we’ve picked up on Rapsodo, Edgertronic, some of the things that we’ve studied with him, we’ve turned that into some lessons for him, and he’s done a great job of absorbing that information and helping him create better spin on the ball, so I’m excited to see how this plays out with his slider and his curveball.”
“We’ve got a four pitch mix that Antonio feels good about,” Black said. “I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen.” Black is also optimistic about Senzatela’s mix of pitches. “For me, there’s been marked improvement.”
Senzatela, too, noted that using technology was essential to his off-season progress.
“I feel like I learned a lot this season,” Senzatela said in a recent media availability. “I think that this [technology] is going to help me this year.”
Using the technology, Senzatela said he can see the velocity and spin rates his pitches generate.
“It helps me a lot because I can see the numbers and work on it,” he said.
For Senzatela, the devices allow him to set benchmarks.
“I just want to repeat that [those numbers] every time,” he said.
“Right now, I’ve got confidence in all of them,” Senzatela said of his four pitches.
Rethinking the importance of movement and the body
There’s another reason I’m hoping Senzatela has a great 2020.
In addition to improving his pitch arsenal, Senzatela took off a few pounds during the off season. Here he is in September 2019:
And here he is at Spring Training:
Thomas Harding reported at spring training that Senzatela had dropped 15 pounds. He is the rare player who gains weight during the season. So in the offseason, according to Harding, Senzatela gave up bread and desserts. Weight loss is always hard, but Senzatela’s eating had an emotional connection to his mother, Nidya, who died of cancer in 2017. (When he pitches, he keeps a gold rosary she gave him in his pocket.)
“She had an empanada stand,” he told Harding. “Used to be, I’d go to school with two empanadas.”
Senzatela added, “My wife cooks. We keep doing empanadas, just one a month—and we’re really careful. And she makes really good cakes, but she’s not making them now. We don’t put anything in the refrigerator.”
Giving up food is hard; giving up food that carries emotional meaning is even harder, but Senzatela did it.
During the lockdown, Senzatela said he continued to work via video conference with his exercise trainer in Orlando while also practicing with the Rockies in Arizona.
Black is confident that the weight loss will allow Senzatela to “move better within his delivery.”
“Physically, he’s in a really good spot. He’s lost some weight. He seems stronger. He’s moving better,” Black said.
“I feel really good, just working out and throwing some balls,” Senzatela said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot this offseason and during this quarantine.”
“It’s going to help me this year,” he added.
His teammate and catch partner, German Márquez, agrees.
“I feel so good for ‘Senza,’” Márquez said. “He looks good. His stuff is still there. The body looks good. I think this year and next year are going to be amazing for that guy. He is a worker, so he’s going to be a successful guy.”
In assessing Senzatela’s pitches, Márquez said, “I think his stuff is pretty good. His fastball is pretty amazing, the changup’s good, and he’s got his slider pretty good. His curveball is going to make him a lot better.”
“This year is going to be good,” Senzatela concluded.